Generic Critical Online Reasoning Skills – Measurement, Development, and Comparative Analyses across Academic Domains

University students increasingly use information from the Internet to learn for their studies. Accessing and acquiring knowledge in online environments presents students with specific challenges. It requires the ability to critically evaluate search results, identify appropriate and credible information, and draw reasoned conclusions. Accordingly, students need a set of skills to meet the challenges of using Internet materials for acquiring new information and knowledge in everyday life and in learning contexts - generic critical online reasoning (GEN-COR).

Based on prior research, A01 defines GEN-COR as the skills, knowledge, and strategies required to deal with general or everyday critical information problems that do not involve or require domain-specific or professional knowledge. According to the construct’s definition, this skillset consists of three facets: online information acquisition, critical information evaluation, reasoning with evidence, argumentation and synthesis. A01 aims to extend and validate existing GEN-COR assessments, to examine the relation of GEN-COR with underlying conventional cognitive abilities, to analyze the development of students’ GEN-COR across the course of three academic years and to identify key predictors. We further aim to analyze commonalities and differences between GEN-COR and domain-specific (DOM)COR.

Together with A02 and A03, the project draws on a random sample of N=1200 students from economics, social science, medicine, and physics. GEN-COR and potential predictors are assessed longitudinally: once at the beginning of the degree program and three times at the end of each consecutive academic year. GEN-COR is assessed using tasks both in the open information space of the Internet and in Internet-like simulations with a closed information space. GEN-COR development will be analyzed using longitudinal IRT and growth curve models.

A01 will create a unique longitudinal database, and its findings will contribute to a deeper understanding of how cognitive skills interact with situational demands in complex online information environments. The measurement approaches using the Internet and log data as sources of evidence will be applicable to other domains and skill constructs. For the research unit (FOR), the measurement of GEN-COR is vital to critically test the generic vs. domain-specific nature of the COR skills and to provide control variables when predicting learning outcomes.

A01 provides data and findings that will be used in all FOR projects, e.g., GEN-COR as a control variable when estimating effects of DOM-COR in A02 and A03. To obtain a deeper understanding of individual differences and to derive a criterion-referenced description of scales, the sources used in the tasks will be evaluated regarding, e.g., linguistic features potentially affecting COR task difficulties together with the B-projects. In-depth analyses of task-solving behavior will be conducted together with the C-projects.